With an area of only 35 square kilometers, Gombe is the smallest national park in Tanzania, and it doesn’t even have any of the big 5. So, why would someone go through the trouble of traveling to the western tip of the country? The answer is one of the most endangered and intriguing species in the world: The Kasekale chimpanzee community.
Not only did the chimps inspire books and movies, but it also intrigued scientists like Jane Goodall, who wanted to study the behavior of these magnificent animals. Today, you can also view these animals, and we guarantee that no safari experience will ever be the same for you.
Established in 1968, Gombe is on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in the Kigoma region. Lake Tanganyika is not only the second oldest freshwater lake but also the second largest and the second deepest after Lake Baikal in Siberia. The area is the intersection of Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo River originates here and flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The altitude ranges from 700 meters near the lake to 1500 meters above the sea level. The terrain around the lake is rugged due to the valley, but it boasts a great variety of vegetation from grassland and woodland to rainforests.
English primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall traveled to this area for the first time in 1960 to study the behavior of the chimpanzee population. Her findings suggested that each chimpanzee had a distinct personality with an ability of rational thought and humanly emotions. After collecting data for a few years, she helped with the foundation of the Gombe Stream Research Center, the longest-running animal behavior research center. The research center aims to provide insight into the link between humans and chimpanzees.
The big game animals are absent from the park, but the abundance of primates compensates for that. The most noteworthy members of the wildlife are the chimpanzee communities. There are two main types present in Gombe – Kakombe, and Mitumba. Together, these two communities consist of 150 chimpanzees.
The other primates in Gombe include Chacma baboons, Olive baboons, red colobus, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, and vervet monkeys. Some hybrid species formed through the mating of different monkey species.
The most common animals besides the primates are the bush pig in the forest, and hippo in the lake. Leopards are also present, but extremely rare.
The National Park is home to 200 bird species. While many of them inhabit the forest, fish eagles and palm nut vultures prefer the lakeside.
There are no roads for any vehicle in Gombe, so you shouldn’t expect to find the usual safari drives.
The main activity in Gombe National Park is the chimpanzee tracking tour that focuses on chimpanzees. These guided walks take about an hour, during which your guide will take you to a specific group of chimps that are the most habituated around humans. The trekking groups are limited to six people at most, so you can have a better experience with these fascinating creatures without overwhelming crowds. Don’t worry if you can’t see any chimps during your first trekking; you can still join a second tour for free.
The lakeside is ideal for other activities such as water sports.
Climate & Best Time To Visit
Gombe National Park experiences year-round hot and humid weather.
The dry season is between May and October. During these months, the rainfall is at a minimum, and the days are mostly sunny. The night temperatures can drop down to 15 degrees between June and August, the temperature is mostly between 20-26 degrees otherwise. September and October have peak temperatures.
The wet season is between November and April, during which most days will see afternoon rains. The humidity levels can be overwhelmingly high.
In terms of viewing the primates, the best time to visit follows a similar logic to any other safari park. The chimps will congregate around the water sources in the lower slopes, so it will be much easier to spot them during trekking tours. Another thing to note is that Gombe’s private lodge will be closed from March to April.
The closest town to Gombe National Park is Kigoma. From there, you can get to Gombe only by boat. If you book a safari package, your tour operator will pick you up at either Arusha or Dar es Salaam. From the airports near these cities, it is possible to take a private charter that will land in Kigoma. The tour operator will take you to Gombe via a private motorboat.
Another option to access Kigoma from Gombe is by public motorboats; however, this trip will take much longer than the private motorboat trip.
Tips & What You Need To Know
- Tanzania has a high risk of malaria throughout, so you must take precautionary malaria pills, use DEET-containing insect repellants, and wear long-sleeve clothing.
- The chimps can be dangerous when provoked and aggressive, so do not try to feed them or get closer than five meters. Also, try to avoid sudden movements, flash when photographing, and talking loud. If a chimpanzee is charging towards the group, follow your guide’s instructions by crouching down and avoiding eye contact.
- Primates can be susceptible to human diseases. If you show any sign of contagious diseases, you should refrain from joining the treks because that would put them in great danger.
- The minimum age limit to participate in chimpanzee tracking tours is 15.
- The only private lodge in the park is Mbali Mbali that has a limited capacity of 15 people at a time. So, you should book your stay well in advance.